All posts by Paul Tchir

Japan’s Oldest Olympians

Today Oldest Olympians is taking a look at Japan. Despite having a reputation as a country for longevity, as well as a lengthy and prolific history at the Olympics, we have been able to identify only one definite centenarian among their Olympians: Seibo Kitamura, an art competitor at the 1932 Los Angles Games. We wanted, therefore, to take a closer look at some of Japan’s oldest Olympians.

(Uto, pictured on the right, on the Olympic podium)

The first case that might come to mind is that of Shunpei Uto, born December 1, 1918, who won two swimming medals for Japan at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. In the 400 metres freestyle he took silver, while in the 1500 metres freestyle he earned bronze. Until recently, we listed him as not only among our oldest Olympians, but also as Japan’s first centenarian Olympian in a physical sport. Unfortunately, however, we learned from journalist Ayako Oikawa, who undertook much research on this subject, that Uto had actually died several years ago, sometime in the 2010s, and never reached the age of 100.

(Shibata, pictured on the left, at a ceremony of the Olympians Association of Japan)

Once we learned this, our next idea was to see if anyone had been named as Japan’s oldest Olympian recently. While this distinction can sometimes be misapplied, it is often an excellent departure point for further research. The last title-holder that we were able to find, however, was from back in 2006, when the media covered Umetaro Shibata, a rower who took part in the coxed fours event at the 1932 Los Angles Games. His age varied across several reports, and we do not have even a year of birth for him in our database, but he was born c. 1909 and was in his mid-to-late 90s at the time. We could not find any updates beyond 2006 and, while he is certainly deceased by now, it remains an open question as to whether or not he reached the age of 100.

Finally, we come to our latest candidate, track athlete Etsuko Komiya, who represented Japan in the 100 metres event at the 1936 Berlin Games. Komiya was born on October 27, 1919 and would therefore have turned 100 recently if still alive, but unfortunately the last update we have on her is from 2012. With no evidence of her death, we have listed her tentatively as alive, but she will be removed from our lists on her 101st birthday if there are no further updates.

Unless and until Komiya is confirmed as having reached the age of 100, therefore, Seibo Kitamura, born December 16, 1884, will remain Japan’s lone centenarian Olympian. Kitamura, who took part in the sculpture contest at the 1932 Los Angles Games, is best known as the creator of the Peace Statue in Nagasaki’s Peace Park, a commemoration of the 1945 atomic bombing of that city during World War II. He died on March 4, 1987, at the age of 102 years, 78 days.

Finally, we wanted to end with two updates to previous cases. Thanks to his children, we have been able to confirm that the Morgan Plumb whom we profiled earlier this year was indeed the Canadian Olympic wrestler. We also want to thank Sven Buren, who found an article confirming that French bronze medal-winning cyclist Claude Rouer was still alive in 2017 and therefore among the oldest living Olympians. We are always grateful to those who take the time out to help us solve Olympic mysteries!

More Medal Mysteries

Over the last few weeks, Oldest Olympians has been taking a look at Olympic missing links. One of them, South African boxer Dries Nieman, was also a medal mystery, as he took bronze in the heavyweight tournament at the 1952 Helsinki Games. Continuing on that theme, we wanted to look into two Olympians who would have recently turned 90 if they were still living, but for whom we could not find any evidence of their being alive recently.

(Rouer, pictured at Cycling Archives)

Claude Rouer – Bronze medalist for France in the team road race at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics

Claude Rouer, born October 25, 1929, reached the pinnacle of his cycling career at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, where he won a bronze medal in the team road race with the French squad. Individually, he had been 23rd and, at the national level, he had been the runner-up in the road race that same year, behind his Olympic compatriot Jacques Anquetil. From 1953 through 1955 he was a professional rider, and in his first year earned the lanterne rouge as the final finisher of that the Tour de France. Despite the notoriety that these achievements brought, we have been unable to find much information about his post-racing life, and thus do not know whether or not he is alive.

Jim Hill – Silver medalist for the United States in the small-bore rifle, prone, 50 metres competition at the 1960 Rome Olympics

Jim Hill, born October 30, 1929, was even more prominent in the sporting world. Hill’s only Olympic appearance came at the 1960 Rome Games, where he took silver in the small-bore rifle, prone, 50 metres competition and was 24th in the same event at three positions. He was even more successful at the 1962 World Championships, where he won silver in the team prone event, bronze individually, and bronze in the team kneeling competition. A member of the United States Marine Corps, he also earned several national distinctions, and thus we believe our difficulty in determining whether or not he is still alive stems from the commonality of his name, rather than an actual dearth of information on him. We believe, therefore, that he is most likely still alive, but we cannot prove it.

Yet More Olympic Links Part III

Today we conclude the series that we revived two weeks ago by once again looking at cases for whom we believed to have identified their date of death but, for whatever reason, we were unable to connect the information, such as obituary or public record, conclusively to the athlete. As always, we present them here not only in the hopes of solving some of these cases, but to continue our commitment to transparency in our research.

(Grave of a Kurt Bryner born in 1916 who died in 1984 from Find-A-Grave)

Kurt Bryner – Member of Switzerland’s sailing delegations to the 1948 and 1952 Summer Olympics

Kurt Bryner, born October 9, 1916, twice represented Switzerland in Star class sailing at the Olympics, both times with his brother Hans. In 1948 they were 15th among 17 teams, while in 1952 they came in 9th in a larger field of 21. Like many sailors, this is the extent of our knowledge on his career, but we do know that his brother died in Milano in the 2000s. We located the record of a grave in Cape Verde for a Kurt Bryner, born 1916, who died in 1984. Given that his brother left Switzerland later in life, there is no reason not to suspect that this may be a marker for the Olympian but, unfortunately, we do not have enough proof to make that conclusion.

Hermann Dür – Member of Switzerland’s equestrian delegation to the 1972 Munich Olympics

Active in the 1970s, Hermann Dür, born June 23, 1925, represented Switzerland in the dressage tournament at the 1972 Munich Olympics, where he came in 7th with the national team and 21st individually. The following year, he was a bronze medalist in the team dressage at the European Championships, and he then earned another bronze medal in that event at the 1974 World Championships. Our research located a man with the same name and birth year who died in 2015, but unfortunately there were no additional details to corroborate a claim that this man was the Olympian.

Dries Nieman – Bronze medalist for South Africa in heavyweight boxing at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics

Dries Nieman, born September 11, 1927, won a bronze medal for South Africa in heavyweight boxing at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, after losing in the semifinals to upcoming champion Ed Sanders. He turned professional after the Games and had some success, although few bouts, over the next four years. On November 10, 1956, he fought Johnny Arthur, the 1948 Olympic bronze medalist, for the South African Heavyweight Title, but lost and then retired with a record of 8-2-0. Several Wikipedia articles have him dying on August 13, 2009, but we believe that this may be based on a report of an Andries Nieman born August 12, 1927 who died on that date. Regardless, we have no evidence of the Olympian being alive in recent years, which makes Nieman both an Olympic missing link and a bronze medal mystery.

(Laurent Bernier pictured in his obituary)

Finally, we like to end with a story that has been resolved if we can, and today we have one. We previously covered Laurent Bernier, a ski jumper who represented Canada at the 1948 St. Moritz Olympics, suggesting that he had possibly died on April 27, 1998. This, however, was based on the idea that he was born December 22, 1928, and it turns out that he was actually born in 1921. This in turn led to an obituary that demonstrated that he had in fact died August 13, 2007, making it the first mystery that we have featured that was resolved in a different fashion than presented. That’s all we have for today, but we hope that you will join us next week as we bring you more Olympic mysteries!

Yet More Missing Olympic Links, Part II

Continuing the series that we revived last week, today Oldest Olympians is once again looking at cases for whom we believed to have identified their date of death but, for whatever reason, we were unable to connect the information, such as obituary or public record, conclusively to the athlete. As always, we present them here not only in the hopes of solving some of these cases, but to continue our commitment to transparency in our research.

Julían Velásquez – Member of Argentina’s fencing delegation to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics

Julían Velásquez, born December 7, 1920, was a member of Argentina’s sabre fencing team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, which was eliminated in round one of the tournament. He had better luck at the 1963 Pan American Games, where he took home a silver medal with the sabre team. This is the extent of what we know about him, but a user on Wikipedia added a date of death of November 12, 2010 and a place of death of Buenos Aires to his article. Unfortunately, we have been unable to confirm this in other sources.

Herman Kunnen – Member of Belgium’s track and field delegation to the 1948 London Olympics

Herman Kunnen, born March 28, 1925, was a three-time Belgian national champion in the 400 metres, from 1946 through 1948. During that time, he was sixth in that event at the 1946 European Championships and did not reach the final at the 1948 London Olympics. He was also sixth in the 4×100 metres at the 1946 Europeans. As with the Velásquez, our only clue about his later life comes from a Wikipedia user, who claimed that Kunnen died in August 2001 in Gent, but we have been unable to find additional evidence to back this up.

Masood Ahmed – Member of Pakistan’s field hockey squad at the 1948 London Olympics

One thing that can be said for certain about Masood Ahmed, born June 1918, is that he represented Pakistan in its fourth-place finish in the field hockey tournament at the 1948 London Olympics. Other information about him is difficult to ascertain, as his name is seen as both Masood Mirza Ahmed and Masood Ahmed Khan, and thus it is possible that two individuals are being conflated in our search for more information. One anonymous Wikipedia user, however, asserted that the Olympian in question died January 19, 2003, but unfortunately this has proven impossible for us to verify.

That is it for today, but we will continue this series next week as we explore even more Olympic Mysteries that we have uncovered. We hope that you will join us!

Yet More Olympic Missing Links

We here at Oldest Olympians have been doing much research as of late, and we have come up with a handful of new names for our Olympic Missing Links series. Thus, today we are once again looking at cases for whom we believed to have identified their date of death but, for whatever reason, we were unable to connect the information, such as obituary or public record, conclusively to the athlete. As always, we present them here not only in the hopes of solving some of these cases, but to continue our commitment to transparency in our research.

(An obituary for Humberto Del Valle Aspitia)

Humberto Aspitia – Member of Argentina’s shooting delegation to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics

Humberto D. V. Aspitia, born December 12, 1928, represented Argentina in the 50 metres pistol event at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, where he was 41st among 52 competitors. Three years later he competed at the same event at the Pan American Games, but just missed the podium by coming in fourth. This is all we know about him, and our only clue to his later life comes in the form of an obituary for a Humberto Del Valle Aspitia who died July 11, 2003. Unfortunately, without the obituary mentioning any additional details about his life, or even the age at which he died, we cannot confirm that this is the Olympian, even though it seems likely.

(An obituary for John F K Hinde)

John Hinde – Member of Great Britain’s coxed eights squad at the 1952 and 1956 Summer Olympics

John Hinde, born October 3, 1928, was a member of two of Great Britain’s coxed eights squads. In 1952 in Helsinki, he just missed the podium in fourth, while in 1956 in Melbourne Britain was eliminated in the round one repêchage. He had more success at the 1951 World Championships, however, where he won a gold medal in the eights. We would have assumed that, given the stature of rowing in England, his death would have merited a noticeable obituary. Unfortunately, all we have been able to locate is a notice of a death for a man with his initials and age, but there are no details to connect him conclusively to the Olympian.

(An obituary for Pierre Brétéché)

Pierre Brétéché – Member of France’s 5.5 metres class sailing entry at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics

Pierre Brétéché, born July 2, 1928, represented France in the 5.5 metres class competition at the 1968 Mexico City Games, where he finished 10th out of 14 nations. Like many Olympic sailors, this is all we know about him and, like our other entries today, our only clue to his fate comes from a brief obituary we found online. It lists a Pierre Brétéché as having died in March 2017 at the age of 88, which would be correct for the athlete. Unfortunately, without more information, we cannot be sure that this is the Olympian.

(Cover of a skiing guide to which Otto Beyeler contributed)

Otto Beyeler – Member of Switzerland’s cross-country skiing delegation to the 1952 Oslo Olympics

Otto Beyeler, born July 21, 1926, was a relatively well-known figure on Switzerland’s ski scene, but represented his country only once at the Olympics. At the 1952 Oslo Games, he came in 15th out of 36 competitors in the 50 km event, the highest placement for the four Swiss participants. As with the rest of today’s missing links, we came across an obituary with too few details to indicate that its subject was the Olympian. It simply lists an Otto Beyeler, born 1926, as having died on January 30, 2016 in Rothrist, with nothing that could identify him for certain as the Olympian.

We have a few more names to cover but, in order to prevent this post from going on too long, we have decided to discuss the rest next week. In the meantime, we wanted to end on a more positive note: an anonymous user on Wikipedia was able to point us to a post from a relative of Chilean basketball player Eduardo Cordero, featured previously on Olympic Missing Links, confirming that Cordero died in September 1991. We want to convey our thanks to that user for helping us solve another Olympic mystery!

Jackie LaVine

Today on Oldest Olympians we wanted to cover an Olympian who we believe to be alive, but whose situation requires a little more than the cursory overview than we normally give to our Olympians of the Day. This will, consequently, be a short post, as well as a mystery that will probably be easily and quickly resolved but, as always, we are committed to transparency in both our research and our claims.

The subject of our inquiry is American swimmer Jackie LaVine, born October 4, 1929, whom we believe to have turned 90 recently. LaVine was first slated to represent the United States in the 4×100 metres freestyle relay at the 1948 London Olympics, but she remained an unused reserve in the team’s gold-medal victory. On her way to the 1952 Helsinki Games, she won five national titles, a gold medal in the 4×100 metres freestyle relay at the 1951 Pan American Games, and silver in the 100 metres freestyle at the same tournament. In Helsinki, she helped the Americans take home bronze in the 4×100 metres freestyle relay.

(Mention of Jackie LaVine’s marriage from the June 13, 1957 edition of the Muncie, Indiana Star Press)

LaVine continued her swimming career for a short time after earning her medal, but soon disappeared from the newspapers. The only trace of her were able to uncover was a brief mention in the Muncie, Indiana Star Press that she had married a handball player by the name of Philip Collins. This allowed us to discover that she was listed in American public records as having lived in Chicago, Illinois from August 1, 1993 through January 1, 2009 as Jacqueline Collins. A last update in 2009 is just on the edge of the range of when we would list someone as living on our tables.

Unfortunately, even this mention is not guaranteed to be entirely accurate, as many individuals are listed as having “resided” in their last place of residence in public records for years after their death. Regardless, even with a “last known living” date of 2009, she would be slated for removal from our lists at the end of 2020 if there were to be no further update. This, therefore, is why we have turned to the Olympic Mysteries blog to reach out to our readers, as we find it likely that someone out there could solve this case rather easily. Unfortunately, names like Jacqueline, and especially Phil, Collins make it difficult for standard Google, and even broader public record, searches to be useful. At the very least, however, we hope that we have done our job of highlighting one of the oldest Olympians and bringing more clarity and nuance to the results that we produce.

Last Survivors of Early Olympic Games, Part III

Today we are concluding our series that looks into the last survivors of early Olympic Games. As a reminder, this data is based on the best of our knowledge; with so much missing information on athlete deaths, particularly from the early Games, it is possible that the last survivor died in obscurity, or without anyone realizing that they were the last one. Thus, as with all considerations regarding the Oldest Olympians, this information might change in the future.

Cecil Smith – Member of Canada’s figure skating delegation to the 1924 and 1928 Winter Olympics

Cecil Smith, born September 14, 1908, won her first figure skating medals at the Canadian national championships in 1923, paving the way for her to become the first woman to represent her country at the Olympics when she made her debut at the 1924 Chamonix Games. There she was sixth in the singles and seventh in the pairs with Melville Rogers. She made a second appearance at the Winter Olympics in 1924 in St. Moritz, where she was fifth in the singles, but the highlight of her career came at the 1930 World Championships, where she won silver behind Norway’s Sonja Henie. Smith continued earning national medals through 1933, but then settled into private life. She died on November 9, 1997, at the age of 89 years, 56 days, which makes her the last surviving competitor that we could find from the 1924 Chamonix Olympics. With the relatively low number of participants at the Winter Games compared to the Summer ones (in 1924, for example, Chamonix had less than 10% of the competitors as Paris), it is likely that Smith was truly the last survivor, but there is also a lot of missing information from these Games as well, making it equally possible that a later survivor will be uncovered in the future.

Hans Kleppen – Member of Norway’s ski jumping delegation to the 1928 and 1932 Winter Olympics

The case of Hans Kleppen, born March 16, 1907, is relatively well-known. He represented Norway in ski jumping at the 1928 St. Moritz Olympics, but fell and placed 36th, near the bottom of the list of finishers. He made up for this the following year, however, when he won a bronze medal at the World Championships. He was selected to represent his country once more at the 1932 Lake Placid Games, but only as a substitute, and he did not end up competing. A taxi driver and driving instructor by trade, he found considerable fame later in life due to his longevity, as he was for several years Norway’s oldest living Olympian at a time when the public had begun to pay attention to such distinctions. He died on April 12, 2009, at the age of 102 years, 27 days, which made him the last known competitor from the 1928 St. Moritz Games and, arguably, the final one from the sparsely-attended 1932 Lake Placid Olympics as well. The last survivor of the 1932 Games who actually participated, however, was British figure skater Cecilia Colledge, born November 28, 1920, who died April 12, 2008 at the age of 87 years, 136 days. That Colledge would hold this title is of little surprise: when she debuted in 1932 at the age of 11 years, 73 days, she became the youngest-ever Winter Olympian, a feat that has never been surpassed.

Simone Schaller – Member of the track and field delegation of the United States to the 1932 and 1936 Summer Olympics

The 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, held in the middle of the Great Depression, was much more poorly attended than several previous iterations of the Games. Track athlete Simone Schaller, born August 22, 1912, was one of the competitors and she did fairly well, just missing the podium in the 80 metres hurdles in fourth. In the same event at the 1936 Berlin Games, she was eliminated in the semifinals. World War II then ended any chance that her career would continue, and she settled into private life, working at a California high school and not granting any interviews in her later years. Nonetheless, she was known to be alive and, when she died on October 20, 2016, at the age of 104 years, 59 days, she was noted as being the last survivor of the 1932 Los Angeles Games, as well as the oldest living Olympian overall. There was, however, still a survivor from an earlier edition of the Games.

Carla Marangoni – Member of the Italian gymnastics delegation to the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics

That distinction went to gymnast Carla Marangoni, born November 13, 1915, who had won a silver medal with the Italian team at the age of only 12 at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. This was the extent of her sporting career, however, and she later worked for the transportation department in her local Pavia. By the time of her 100th birthday, however, she was already known not only as the oldest living Italian Olympian, but as the last survivor of the 1928 Amsterdam Games. This was in stark contrast to her teammate Bianca Ambrosetti who, already ill with tuberculosis during the Games, died in 1929 at the age of only 15, making her the shortest-lived Olympic competitor. Marangoni, however, outlived even Schaller and, when she died on January 18, 2018, aged 102 years, 66 days, she had become the Olympian who lived the longest after her Olympic appearance.

 

Although we know of no living competitors from the 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Olympics, it seems a little premature to declare a last survivor when there are still eight living participants from the 1936 Berlin Games. As it stands, however, the last survivor we known of from the Garmisch-Partenkirchen Games is Romanian figure skater Maria Popp, born November 18, 1919, who died August 21, 2015. Popp did not start in her event, however, which leaves Czech alpine skier Hilde Walterová, born February 21, 1915, who died April 19, 2013 at the age of 98 years, 57 days, the last surviving actual competitor. With that information, we conclude our series on the last survivors of early Olympic Games. We hope that you have enjoyed these posts, and that you will join us next week when we blog about a new topic!

Last Survivors of Early Olympic Games, Part II

Today we are going to continue our look into the last survivors of early Olympic Games. As a reminder, this data is based on the best of our knowledge; with so much missing information on athlete deaths, particularly from the early Games, it is possible that the last survivor died in obscurity, or without anyone realizing that they were the last one. Thus, as with all considerations regarding the Oldest Olympians, this information might change in the future.

Willem Winkelman – Member of the Dutch track and field delegation to the 1908 London Games

Willem Winkelman, born July 14, 1887, represented the Netherlands in two track events at the 1908 London Olympics. He was eliminated in the opening round of the 3,500 metres walk (the only time this event was held at the Games) and gave up part way through his heat of the 10-mile walk (another event held only in 1908). Winkelman recalled that, at the time, sport was not taken seriously where he was from and thus the 1908 Olympics were the pinnacle of his career. Nonetheless, by the time of his death on July 1, 1990, at the age of 102 years, 352 days, the importance of international sport was well-cemented into the fabric of global life. Thus Winkelman was recognized widely for his longevity and connection to the early Olympics and, in almost 30 years, no one else has been discovered that can claim the mantle of last survivor of the 1908 London Games.

Jalmari Kivenheimo – Member of Finland’s gymnastic delegation to the 1912 Stockholm Games

Jalmari Kivenheimo, born September 25, 1889, was a member of the Finnish gymnastics squad that won the silver medal in the free system team all-around event at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics (other events in 1912 required competitors to use either the European or Swedish systems). This was his only major international competition, and he later earned a PhD in botany and worked as a teacher. By the time of his death on October 29, 1994, at the age of 105 years, 34 days, he was acknowledged in an English-language bulletin as the oldest living Olympian, the last survivor of the 1912 Stockholm Games, and the longest-lived Olympic medalist ever. Almost 25 years later, he still holds that latter distinction, and it was only as of today, when John Lysak reached the age of 105 years, 35 days, that Kivenheimo has dropped from the list of the top five longest-lived Olympians of all-time.

Aileen Riggin – Member of the aquatic delegations of the United States to the 1920 and 1924 Summer Olympics

Aileen Riggin, born May 2, 1906, was perhaps the first of the last survivors who was well-known for reasons other than her longevity. At the age of 14, she won the springboard diving event for the United States at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, also placing fifth in the plain high competition. She returned in 1924 and took silver in the springboard, as well as bronze in the 100 metres backstroke swimming tournament. She then had a successful career as an aquatic professional, performing in exhibitions and appearing in films, before changing careers and working as a journalist. She was made a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1967. Although she died at the age of “only” 96 years, 170 days on October 19, 2002, we have been unable to locate another candidate for the last survivor of the 1920 Antwerp Games, although it is certainly possible, given how much data on this edition we are missing, that another contender will emerge in the future.

(Pavelić, pictured in his obituary in The Daily Greenwich)

Ivo Pavelić – Member of Yugoslavia’s swimming delegation to the 1924 Paris Games

The Olympic career of Ivo Pavelić, born February 10, 1908, was brief: he represented Yugoslavia in the 200 metres breaststroke event at the 1924 Paris Games and was eliminated in the opening round. He was more successful as a footballer, making several appearances with the national team between 1927 and 1930 and winning the national championship in the latter year. By career he was a lawyer who moved to Switzerland during World War II, but he became a businessman in Greenwich, Connecticut after the conflict. Due to his brief Olympic appearance, and the fact that he emigrated to the United States, it came as a surprise in 2011 that he had still been alive and died on February 22 at the age of 103 years, 12 days, making him the last known living survivor of the 1924 Paris Olympics.

Pavelić’s death begins our personal experience with last living survivors of the Games, as discussion surrounding his obituary was the first time that we at Oldest Olympians had encountered the concept, and thus it seems like a good place to stop for today. Next week, our final part of this series will examine the 1928 and 1932 Summer Olympics, as well look into the Winter Games. We hope that you will join us!

Last Survivors of Early Olympic Games

Today we are going to begin looking into a topic that is very much related to Oldest Olympians: the last survivors of early Olympic Games. While in many cases these individuals lived to be over 100, not all of them did, and in two cases they did not even reach the age of 90, which means that they would have been ineligible for the Oldest Olympians table. The last survivor, of course, is not necessarily the longest-lived, as the case of Walter Walsh shows. Walsh is the longest-lived Olympian, but he competed in his 40s at the 1948 London Games, and thus there are many competitors from that edition who survived him.

One should also keep in mind that this data is based on the best of our knowledge; with so much missing information on athlete deaths, particularly from the early Games, it is possible that the last survivor died in obscurity, or without anyone realizing that they were the last one. Thus, as with all considerations regarding the Oldest Olympians, this information might change in the future. Nonetheless, we will begin this series with a look into the earliest editions, for which information about the competitors is the least well-known.

Dimitrios Loundras – Member of the Greek gymnastics delegation to the 1896 Athens Games

At 10 years and 216 days old, Greek gymnast Dimitrios Loundras, born September 6, 1885, was the youngest participant at the 1896 Athens Games, so it is not surprising that he was the last survivor as well. Loundras came in third in the team parallel bars event, which at the time would not have earned him a prize (the gold-silver-bronze medal structure did not emerge until 1904), but retroactively he is considered a bronze medalist. He later served in the Greek Navy and, perhaps more importantly, with the Hellenic Olympic Committee. It is because of this latter role that we know of his participation in the Games, as many of the names of the second- and third-place finishers of his event (as well as of the 1896 competitors in general) are unknown or have been lost. His date of death is given as February 15 of either 1970 or 1971, so he was aged 84 or 85 years and 162 days, but either way he was the last known living connection to the first Olympic Games. Given how much missing information there is about these Games, however, it is very possible that another individual may have actually survived longer.

Lucien Démanet – Member of the French gymnastic delegations to the 1900 and 1920 Summer Olympics

Lucien Démanet, born December 6, 1874, was also a gymnast, but unlike Loundras he was well into adulthood when he débuted at the 1900 Paris Games, where he came in third among 135 competitors in the individual all-around. Again, there were no bronze medals at this edition, although he is considered a medalist retrospectively. In 1920, however, he received an actual bronze medal with the French team in the all-around event at the age of 45. In-between, he won three medals, one gold and two bronze, at the 1905 World Championships. Démanet died March 16, 1979 at the age of 104 years, 100 days, and was the last known survivor of the 1900 Games. As with 1896, of course, there are many unknown competitors, including a French boy of about seven years who helped the Dutch team win the coxed pairs event. It is possible, therefore, that a younger participant survived Démanet.

(Dellert, pictured with his 1904 participation medals, in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, on November 8, 1984)

John Dellert – Member of the Concordia Turnverein gymnastic delegation to the 1904 St. Louis Games

John Dellert, born November 18, 1884, was the third of the last survivors who was both a gymnast and a competitor from the host country. Neither is surprising, as gymnasts are often younger, on average, than competitors in other sports, and the host countries of early Games tended to have far larger delegations than those of other nations, making the last survivor statistically more likely to come from there. Unlike the Loundras and Démanet, however, we know about him despite the fact that he was not a top performer at the Games: he placed no higher than 30th in the individual events and was fourth in the team all-round. He was also selected to compete at the 1908 Rome Olympics, but an injury prevented him from attending. He worked a series of manual labour jobs throughout his life and died February 3, 1985, aged 100 years, 77 days, and while there is a lot of missing information on the 1904 St. Louis Games, he is nonetheless a strong candidate for the last survivor.

Vahram Papazyan – Armenian track and field athlete at the 1906 Athens Intercalated Games

There are some things that are unclear about Vahram Papazyan, but two conjectures seem very likely: that he was the youngest competitor at the 1906 Intercalated Games held in Athens, and that he was the last survivor. In the former case, his date of birth is usually seen as September 12, 1892, but his obituary and Social Security Death Index record list him as being born in 1893. This latter date seems unlikely given contemporary pictures of the athlete, but either way he would have been the youngest participant when he competed in the 800 and 1,500 metre races, being eliminated in the opening round. He is usually considered as having represented Turkey, although he was arguably an individual participant who happened to come from the Ottoman Empire. At the 1912 Stockholm Games, however, he was an official representative of the nation and competed in the same two events, with similar results. He later moved to the United States and worked as an electrical engineer, remaining there for the rest of his life and dying March 7, 1986 at the age of, at most, 93 years and 176 days. Given this (relatively) young age, and the fact that the 1906 Games are now considered unofficial and thus have not been studied as much as other editions, it remains possible that someone will be discovered who survived longer than Papazyan.

That seems like enough for one post, so we will continue this series with second and third entries in the coming weeks. Before we end today, however, we would like thank Fabio Montermini, who undertook research and used his contacts to discover that one of our Bronze Medal Mysteries, Italian sailor Antonio Cosentino, died in 1993 in Naples. We greatly appreciate the work that he did to solve this mystery and offer him our sincere thanks!

Ray Robinson

It has been about two months since we last featured a mystery about an Olympic medalist, but today we have another South African to discuss: cyclist Ray Robinson, born September 3, 1929, who would have recently turned 90 if still alive

(Ray Robinson, pictured far left, at Classic Lightweights UK)

Robinson had a very successful run at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, winning silver in the tandem sprint with Tommy Shardelow and bronze in the 1,000 metres time trial. He also placed fifth in the sprint. He and Shardelow competed again at the 1956 Melbourne Games, but were eliminated in the quarterfinals. He continued riding until 1960 but, unfortunately, due to his relatively common name (and the fact that results tend to get muddled with those of Sugar Ray Robinson), we have been unable to locate more about his career or later life.

Even though English is a common language in South Africa (certainly at the time of Robinson’s career), it is not particularly surprising to have a medal mystery from this country; in fact, we have covered several in the past. Considering the many racial tensions that existed during that era of national sport and its subsequent tarnished legacy, added to the commonality of his name, it is not surprising that there are few online resources available to explore his career. What does make him unique, however, is that he is arguably our most decorated Olympic mystery. We have covered the case of Belgian figure skater Micheline Lannoy, our only Olympic gold medal mystery, but Robinson is one of only two Olympic medal mysteries to have earned more than one medal, and the other, Austrian canoeist Herbert Wiedermann, won bronze twice.

This is why we have chosen to highlight Robinson in today’s blog as a crucial portion of Olympic history, because we suspect that the information must be out there, and that it is either inaccessible to us or we have simply missed it. On our last day at the Olympic Studies Center in Lausanne, we even attempted to scour some rare books on South African sports history for clues about his career and fate, but to no avail. Left with limited options we turn to you, our readers, in the hopes that someone will be able to solve this important Olympic mystery.